Byrd: Music for Holy Week & Easter: Vespers; Mass Propers for Easter Day; Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christe secundum Johannem

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COMPOSERS: Byrd
LABELS: ASV Gaudeamus
WORKS: Music for Holy Week & Easter: Vespers; Mass Propers for Easter Day; Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christe secundum Johannem
PERFORMER: The Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew Carwood; Patrick Russill (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: CD GAU 214
This is the latest offering from ASV’s commendable Byrd Edition, and all of these pieces are taken from the composer’s Gradualia published in two volumes in 1605 and 1607. These collections contain liturgical music for the most important services of the Catholic church – a pretty provocative enterprise considering that their dates of publication coincided exactly with the Gunpowder Plot in England and its immediate aftermath. Here we have items written for Easter, the culmination of the church year which evinced some of Byrd’s finest music.

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The most obviously successful performances are of the longer items, where the architecture of the pieces can be gradually but majestically revealed. ‘Plorans plorabit’ is superbly sung, and the same exquisite control brings out the best in the tortuous dissonances of ‘Christus resurgens’. The shorter items are rather mixed, with a diffident ‘Adoramus te’, and some swallowed words in ‘Pascha nostrum’, but with a lively presentation of the theatrical word-setting at the beginning of ‘Terra tremuit’. At its best, The Cardinall’s Musick is unbeatable, but the 1990 recording of this repertoire by the William Byrd Choir under Gavin Turner (Hyperion), currently out of the catalogue, probably just has the edge in terms of consistency and sensitivity. Anthony Pryer